Monday, April 26, 2021

Weekend rankings: The Canadiens’ spot slips away, while the Central race is down to two

Look, we’re not saying it’s going to happen. We’re not even saying it’s likely to happen.

Still, you’re a little nervous about missing the playoffs, right Habs fans?

OK, probably not. Being “a little nervous” was two weeks ago, when the Habs were refusing to close this thing out even as the Flames were spiraling and the Canucks were sidelines. By last week, we were asking how worried the Canadiens should be, and the answer their fans kept offering was “A whole lot, but thanks for asking, really glad you brought that up right now”.

Here’s where we’re at in the North. The Leafs just took two from the Jets in games that saw Winnipeg pull its star goalie and bench its best forward, so even though we’ve been here before, it’s feeling pretty safe to say Toronto will finish first unless they collapse. That will give us an intriguing Jets/Oilers matchup in the first round, with lots of old-school Smythe Division baggage to unpack.

So who gets fourth? For most of the second half, that’s been Montreal’s spot to lose. It still is, but man, they’re working on it. They’ve won three of their last 11, they can’t score, and Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher are both out. They can’t use Cole Caufield because they don’t have cap space, and they don’t have cap space because of how Marc Bergevin approached the deadline, and here we are.

But despite it all, they came into this week with an opportunity to put the whole thing to bed. A five-game Alberta trip featuring three against the Flames was a chance to knock out Calgary with a win or two, at which point it would just be about holding serve long enough to outlast the Canucks.

Instead, the Habs split two with the Oilers and then dropped the first two of the Calgary series, both in regulation. That moved the Flames to within six points, which is still a big gap, and if Montreal win the finale tonight then that’s probably about it for Calgary. But if the Flames finish the sweep, hoo boy.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are lurking, even with Elias Pettersson unlikely to return this year. They’re ten points back but with five in hand, including two more this week against the Senators. Dom has Vancouver’s odds at 19% and the Flames at 11%, which leaves the Habs sitting well north of “probably” but nowhere close to “sure thing”.

The bottom line is that Montreal is still running this show. They’ve got ten games left including tonight and if they win, let’s say six of them, we’re pretty much done. Winning six of ten isn’t too much to ask. It’s pretty much the baseline expectation for a playoff team.

Is that what the Canadiens are? We’re not sure. We’ve got ten games to find out.

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